The Horse Respiratory System

Horse Respiratory System & Breathing


10 Things Horse Owners Should Know About the Horse Respiratory System …

1. Your horse does not breathe through its mouth and nose like we do. Your horse only breathes through its nostrils. The nose and the mouth are separate and your horse will only breathe through the mouth if there is something wrong with the soft palate that separates the mouth from the nose.

2. You cannot train the horse respiratory system. Detailed Scientific studies have shown that the volume of air moved by an unfit horse travelling at a fixed speed will be the same months later when the horse is fully fit.

3. At canter or gallop your horse will take one breath in time with one stride; this is called respiratory-locomotory coupling.

Horses Moving together at speeed

4. During a hard gallop the blood pressure within your horse’s lungs will be 4 to 5 times greater than it is at rest. This is one factor that puts stress on the very thin walls of the lungs blood vessels and can lead to rupturing.

5. Your horse should swallow 1 to 2 times during each minute of work and the time taken to inhale a breathe should be the same as the time taken to exhale.

6. If you over-tighten your horse’s girth it will adversely affect its performance. Not because it constricts your horses chest, because it limits the effectiveness of the chest and shoulder muscles that move the front legs.

7. Your horse will hold its breath over jumps and won’t breathe again until it lands, when it will exhale before inhaling.

8. The amount of air moving in and out of your horses lungs will increase in direct proportion to how fast your horse is moving. If your horse runs twice as fast it must move twice the volume of air.

9. During work, when your horse inhales, around 90% of the resistance to air movement is in the airways, ie; the nostrils, the nasal passages and the larynx. But when exhaling the majority of resistance (55%) is in the lungs.

10. Your horse doesn’t breathe by expanding and contracting its chest during canter or gallop. It only expands and contracts its chest at rest, at walk and trot and blowing hard after work. During canter and gallop all the air is moved using the diaphragm.

Only a qualified veterinary surgeon can successfully diagnose and treat respiratory illness in your horse and you should always consult a vet if you suspect there is something wrong with your horses’ breathing.